Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lion's Den

Do you ever have those days when you feel like your heart is just beating out of its chest for one reason or another, and it won't stop no matter how many times you envision wrapping it, layer by layer so its fervent drumming falls into silent submission? Today I felt like I was being thrown around in a sea, as the waves beat me mercilessly--I couldn't quite keep my head above water. I was surrounded by 130 children at my church's summer church camp (that's not why I felt like I was suffocating, but it might have had something to do with it) while they were talking about stories regarding the Nile River. Everyone, even the small children, questioned me about living in Egypt or why I would ever want to return there.

My stomach was in knots as more and more questions were asked. Although I am so incredibly glad that I moved to Cairo almost a year ago, especially because fate has aligned things so beautifully for the next glorious year or so. I've become more secure with my surroundings, no matter where I am, and have some of the most wild and hilarious stories to share. A few of you know about the most UNFORGETTABLE and amazing experiences I've had there while several of you also know about the worst occasions there--and there are some that are still kept mostly secret because I'd rather not have to hear, "Don't tell me about it anymore, you're the one living there" or "Egyptian men are all the same, just color your hair and wear a'll be fine!" First of all, don't ask if you don't want to hear about it or plan on cutting me off to argue with me about something you cannot even fully fathom. Secondly, I am NOT going to color my hair (unless you give me a few hundred dollars a month to get it done) and NO, not ALL Egyptian men are the same. Unfortunately, it appears that a majority of them are, which got me to thinking...and reading...and remembering.

I remember a group of boys on the Metro train who stood in front of me and shook long sticks of candy in my face, while they were cleverly arranged quite  precisely where their more than likely nonexistent manhood should grow. I was taunted and disgustingly teased until an ancient Egyptian woman beat them all across the heads with her cane, in one good swipe, until they all jumped off at the next exit.

I remember having my bags thrown out of a taxi because he discovered I was an American and then a woman wearing nikab wouldn't even take me all the way home afterwards because she had a curfew.

I remember having my bag ripped out of my arms and my hair pulled so ferociously that I finally punched a young man, and fled between the rest of the pack with my purse in hand, into the small store where hardly any one one look me in the eye. I was bruised and exhausted, incapable of thinking for the rest of the day.

I remember having my ass and every inch of my genital area grabbed with such force that I hurt for hours after, but didn't want to complain or make matters worse. I didn't want to tell my mother, my boyfriend, or closest secret-keepers any more--what could they do, right?

I remember a man pulling down his pants in front of me and my roommate, cussing us out, and the police doing nothing--even though we were hysterical and in detrimental emotional shock due to everything else that occurred that week.

I remember a police officer that called my roommate continuously and harassed her without apology, even when she explained she had a serious boyfriend.

I remember feeling the pressure of men in Tahrir pushing up against me, aroused and unforgiving...fighting with my friends to free ourselves from the crowd before it was too late.

I remember all of these things and yet I will remain persistent in my fight for women's rights in Egypt and elsewhere. I should be ashamed at the thought and my recent acts of remaining silent, and urge other women...especially those in Western countries, to continue to talk about the injustices they face and to spread the word about things they read, see, and hear.

I suppose I am still young enough to believe that these oppressive cultural differences will change and adapt, although it may take 50 years or more to educate those who cannot even correctly define the definition of RAPE or SEXUAL ASSAULT or GENDER BASED VIOLENCE. After reading this post by Natasha Smith I found myself crying more than I have in months, which was exactly the kind of electroshock that I needed to get my heart racing again. [].

"Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals...They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions...A small minority of men...tried to protect me and guide me to a tent...Men pulled my blonde hair – a beacon of my alien identity."

I was astounded at the bravery and courage of this amazing journalist and am so thankful that nothing this extreme has ever happened to me.

But it could. 

I couldn't help but thinking, "Whitney, what if? What if you didn't stop after that last drink? What if you took a taxi by yourself so late at night? What if you wouldn't have ignored those men, would they have followed you? What if you didn't use every bad word in Arabic you knew to ward off and insult the man following you? What if?"

Never in my adult life have I considered myself weak or helpless. I am always the lion in the den: proud, determined, and ferocious when necessary (although I have at times felt like Daniel in the lion's den). Deep down I am embarrassed that I have bowed my head for so long, even though I've often thought that it wouldn't be worthwhile to bring these issues up since they are all over the news. However, I thought maybe (just maybe) if my more distant friends and family could read about some of these occurrences from someone they know then it would hit closer to home. Educate yourselves (I also remember being FURIOUS when a dear friend asked me, "What is Tahrir Square?" several months after I had been in Egypt) then be thankful, and perhaps thank God *or a powerful deity of sorts*, that you live in a country where you can be educated!

I almost did not post this. I mean really what's the use of one more puny blog post giving commentary on issues that everyone can just watch on television or read in the newspaper? It's because of the fact that I know instances like these don't only happen in the Middle East and that's why no one, WOMAN or MAN, should remain silent. The more stories that are shared, the more hell that is raised, the more the world will pay attention.

Be loud.

Be resilient, and don't you dare be afraid to speak your mind--even when you think no one is listening, because I bet you that someone will. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Curse of the Gypsy Blood (and Unpacking)

 FACT: Unpacking is almost, quite nearly, as bad as packing.

I have been peeking miserably into the bins in the basement that’s stored long lost treasures and at my desperate looking suitcase that has profusely regurgitated shoes and unmentionables all over my floor.

While I’ve been thinking about unpacking and making room for lovely new trinkets that I’m bound to find over the summer and in Berlin, I’ve also been pondering the most important things that I must do this summer. In case you didn’t know, I am the master of list-making (and also the master of list-losing).

Here’s what I have so far.

Summer To Do List:

1. Go through my closet/basement/unbelievable amounts of boxes hiding around the house. I’m greatly looking forward to all of the wonderful types of outfits that I’ll be able to wear in the coming months—Egypt really cramped my style.
2. Learn German. Easier said than done, right? Jaaaa!
3. Read (at least) one “leisurely” book per week. I’m excited by this one!
4. Finish my graduate thesis proposal (and a major chunk of the blasted thesis itself) regarding mainstream female activists and women’s empowerment programs in Egypt.
5. Purchase a new drivers license. Mine has been misplaced, somehow.
6. Go camping and hiking somewhere in the Great Smokey Mountains! Any takers?
7. Have my second Alice in Wonderland garden themed party. I LOVE hosting parties and planning parties. Friends, prepare yourselves!
8. Allow myself one cup of coffee per day. Seriously, I mean it.
9. Find a perfectly quaint little flat in Berlin.
9 ½. Talk myself out of purchasing the cutest Pug puppy in the world to take to abroad with me. I really, REALLY want one…
10. Strengthen my beliefs in God and my church.
*Some of you may be wondering why #10 is the last on my list, but I’m almost certain this will be the task that takes the longest to achieve. I’m not afraid of this, and I greatly enjoy a challenge—and it seems as if this challenge will be the greatest out of all this summer.*

So it seems that this minute list will help me to focus on the tasks at hand instead of my wanderlust and urges to travel, far and wide (preferably with my German boy, of course). That doesn't mean I can't have my own adventures here though. :) One of my dearest friends sent this poem to me the other day, she knows my heart and spirit so well. 

"There's a race of men that don't fit in,

A race that can't sit still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest; Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest."
— Robert W. Service

Perhaps this is why I dislike unpacking so much, because it softens the spirit of excitement and hope of a new adventure begins to vanish with each item that is removed from my beaten parcels. Until August, this gypsy girl will have to make due with everything just south of the Mason-Dixon line!

Now, to find some clothes hangers and the Moscato wine my amazing Mother brought home yesterday...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Last Bretzel

Why are so many airports charging for internet these days?
Instead of Facebooking, online lusting, or stealing these killer black and peach heels off the woman beside of me I just decided to get one last “bretzel und apfelshorle” to help me prepare for my next flight from Frankfurt and provide brain juice for a rather lazy blog post.

It was incredibly difficult to leave Germany today, for several reasons I am sure you can imagine. It’s strange to be going home after almost one year away from it. I never attended those absurdly useless international student meetings regarding “reverse culture shock” but I have a feeling that it will be wonderfully strange being back in America after living in a third world country for so long (and after joyously gallivanting through Deutschland drinking radlers, watching Seb play American football AND winning a big game, watching copious amounts of European football AND watching Germany win, seeing the most unforgettable sites in Germany *Neuschwanstein Schloss and the Alps, the enchanting Bodensee that’s surrounded by Germany, Switzerland and Austria, as well as the lovely UNESCO World Heritage Site—Regensberg*).

Also, I should mention that packing proved to be as terrible as always. If I could somehow manage to continuously hire someone to properly pack all of my bags I would be the happiest girl in the world. Egypt Airlines is completely ridiculous and is not capable of properly measuring luggage weight (technically I shouldn’t complain about this but I had to leave about 12 pounds worth of items with Sebastian since it wouldn’t all fit in my bags! I owe a certain German man lots of gifts from America). So around 1:30 a.m., right when eye twitching delirium was beginning to kick in, I discovered that all of my things would not fit…which caused me to have a slight panic attack, so I just decided to go to bed and crammed everything in when I woke up—this proved to be a very good idea. No extra charges for overweight baggage at the airport—Lucky, lucky me!

So here I am: one and a half massive and very suspicious looking carry ons, a Vogue magazine given to me by a sweet lady who finished flipping through the last good bits, lack of mascara from airport crying (which I loathe entirely but sometimes it can’t be helped in such circumstances), kasebretzel that tastes like salted cardboard, disastrous hair askew, and the beautiful feeling of building anticipation.

Tennessee, be home soon! 
Germany, I'll be seeing you. 

I love this song by Billie Holiday! Quite appropriate. Don't you think? :)

Johnny Cash and Koshari

It’s strange, this feeling I always get in the pit of my stomach, when I’m about to leave a place for a very long time. Cairo has been wonderful these past two or three months, and I’m finally coming to terms with this crazy city. I realized this when I went with a complete stranger (who wasn’t really a stranger after all, my darling friend Acom arranged that he would pick me up so we could all have shisha and koshari near Tahrir Square together) and we were stuck in traffic over the Nile. Somehow I didn’t even notice the cars honking away and felt at peace with myself, even after sharing conversations with this new friend about the troubles that I’ve had in Egypt.

He apologized to me, for the wrongdoings that every Egyptian man had ever done. It was the FIRST time EVER that any Egyptian guy has done that. I could tell he was being sincere. My breath was taken away from me. I could tell he was furious as he listened to my melodramatic stories. He continued to grip the steering wheel and sat in silence while listening to my every word. Never once did he tell me that I should dress a certain way, or that I should do this or that in order to protect myself from the harassment. He never cracked a smile or rolled his eyes, which has been the norm in the past. We talked about politics in Egypt, how he wants to move to England so badly to get out of the city, about Germany and my boyfriend, and about music. This guy has such a love for music and I was thoroughly impressed with his iPod playlists. Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, and great musicians I’d never even heard of!

I’m an everywhere man…” filled my ears as we edged closer to our destination. I was really looking forward to meeting my friend Acom, the first female Egyptian friend that I ever made here. We sat down at one of the streetside cafĂ©’s beside of Tahrir, and I ordered my favorite drink called Aneb and apple shisha (the only flavor available at this little shop), and began to chat away. Acom’s friend slipped away and I found myself asking her about FGM (female genital mutilation) because I’d always been curious about the situation in Cairo, have read about it constantly, but have never asked a close Egyptian friend about it. Needless to say her responses were what I expected to hear, and made me love her even more! I love all of the strong and outspoken women I’ve met here. 

My friend from AUC, Marie, showed up just in time and we all went around the corner so I could experience koshari for the very first time! Now let me tell you something about koshari. It is not, by any means, an elaborate meal and involves throwing rice, spaghetti pasta, lentils, hummus, tomato sauce, little round pasta, and maybe a few other things into a massive pot…and then voila! Dinner is served. They have a bowl of cumin and bottles of extremely spicy chili pepper sauce, or vinegar and garlic (which is what I chose), to add onto your mysterious bowl of carbohydrates. 

Apparently I don’t know how to eat koshari properly because I added spoons full of cumin and salt, then way too much chili pepper and found myself completely disgusted with my meal that was supposed to be almost magical! I had been putting off this koshari occasion for months. Marie, the sweetheart that she is, gave me the rest of her koshari so I could enjoy what it’s REALLY supposed to taste like. It’s really not that bad, but very filling and I don’t think I’ll be eating it again for quite some time because…


Can you tell I am excited? This summer is going to be so amazing because of time with my favorite boy and my amazing family. It seems almost surreal; I remember leaving them at the airport like it was just yesterday. I was a complete disaster with my two massive “purses” as carry on’s that were probably bigger than most 7 year olds. I just am truly thankful that I have incredible friends and family all over this great big world. Without them, I would be nothing (and I sure as hell wouldn’t have had all of these great opportunities). Thank you all for everything